Jim Owen is proof that age is just a number. At 79, the retired Wall Street executive hits the gym six days a week and says he’s in the best shape of his life.
That wasn’t always the case. Although Owen had been athletic in high school and enjoyed running and strength training at different points in his life, years of working a desk job had left him feeling stiff and weak.
“I’d become a couch potato, and when I saw a video of myself on my 70th birthday, I was shocked by my appearance,” Owen says. “My knees were shot, my back was killing me, my right rotator cuff was a frozen mess, and I remember thinking, If I look this bad now, what will my life be like in 15 years?”
Owen made a promise to himself that day to improve his health. With the help of a personal trainer, Owen developed a step-by-step program that can be tailored to any level of physical activity. He shares the secrets to success in his book “Just Move! A New Approach to Fitness After 50” (National Geographic, 2017).
Find the right personal trainer
Studies show that it’s never too late to reap the benefits of exercise, and that includes older adults, like Owen, who have muscle and joint conditions.
“It’s important to work with a personal trainer when you’re older because they can spot weaknesses you might have such as tight hips or ankles and ensure you’re practicing good form,” Owen says. “I learned from working with a personal trainer that I needed to improve my core, and that by strengthening my core muscles, I could improve my back pain.”
Owen remembers interviewing several personal trainers before finding one that he believed was in sync with his goals.
“Each trainer would ask me what I hoped to accomplish, and when I told them I wanted to be 80 years young, some of them seemed to think I was crazy,” Owen says with a laugh. “The trainer I chose said, ‘I can help you accomplish your goals as long as you recognize that what you do on the days you aren’t working with me are as important as the days we’re together.’”
Find your motivation
It can be hard to get motivated when you’re starting a new exercise regimen, but Owen found inspiration in a compression shirt that may have been just a tad too tight.
“I could see people at the gym avert their eyes when they looked my way, but I was there to improve my health,” Owen says. “When I started working out, I wore an extra large. Now I wear a medium.”
Today, he finds motivation through the way he feels.
“I truly found my inner athlete,” Owen admits. “Regular exercise has become an enjoyable habit for me, and my back pain is completely gone.”
He’s also inspired his wife of 50 years, Stanya, to join him at the gym.
“After a friend commented that I was transforming from a spud into a stud, Stanya decided to join me at the gym,” Owen says with a laugh. “We typically alternate cardio with strength training and do each three times a week. I’m really proud of Stanya and how far she’s come. She feels great and has a glow about her.”
In addition to exercising, Owen also changed his diet and now eats a primarily Mediterranean diet composed of veggies, fruit, fish, chicken and very little red meat. He also keeps his carb intake low, focuses on portion size and limits his sugar intake, with one exception.
“I still enjoy eating a piece of dark chocolate every day,” Owen says.
Start small, end big
When Owen first embarked on his health transformation, he challenged himself to walk every day for 30 days. His goal wasn’t to become an extreme athlete but to condition his body so that it could better meet the demands of daily life.
“On the first day, I barely made it three blocks without wheezing,” he says. “I knew the secret was to keep moving, so I started keeping an exercise journal, and the next day, I walked a little farther and continued to increase my distance over the course of a month.”
Owen also attempted doing push-ups when he first began working out and learned he couldn’t even do one push-up correctly. Today, he can complete 50 push-ups.
As his confidence grew, Owen found himself wanting to do more, his workouts became more intense and he even ventured outside of his comfort zone to try exercise classes such as a Pilates-yoga movement class.
“It took me three to four years to get to the point where I can do 50 push-ups. I’ve lost 25 pounds, and I’m in the best shape of my life,” Owen admits. “I also learned that 75 percent of exercise is mental and that I’m not competing against others at the gym, I’m just taking control of my future.”
Photo credit: Black Swan Photographers